California ballot initiative targets the trans community's right to use public facilities

Following a startling trend across the nation, a group called Privacy For All submitted a ballot initiative barring transgender people­ – and inadvertently, some intersex people – from using the bathroom which corresponds with their gender identity. The proposed bill states that people "shall use facilities in accordance with their biological sex" and extends to all government buildings, including public schools. Besides limiting the use of public facilities, the bill would allow people to file a civil claim "for violation of privacy" should they encounter a (perceived) transgender person in the bathroom. The civil claim would require a minimum of $4,000 in damages plus attorney fees from either the trans person in question or a government entity.

California is home to Assembly Bill 1266, which legally permits transgender students in public schools to participate in "sex-segregated school programs and activities" and "use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity…" California is unique in providing these protections to trans students. The group seeking to pass this ballot initiative previously sought to repeal AB 1266, but failed to gather the required number of signatures.

The ballot initiative, called the Personal Privacy Protection Act, explicitly addresses gender-segregated facilities such as public restrooms, locker rooms, and dressing rooms. Under California's Civil Rights Act of 2005, which added gender identity to a long list of protected classes, the proposed bill would be illegal for plainly targeting trans people in public accommodations. Transgender Californians are protected from these types of discrimination, but more than half of states lack such extensive security under the law. The initiative needs over 365,000 signatures to be included on the 2016 ballot.

Kris Hayashi, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, released a statement, saying: "The initiative is unconstitutional and unenforceable. It is clearly intended to target transgender people, which is itself illegal, but in effect it would place everyone at greater risk of harassment. Anyone who doesn’t meet stereotypes of what a woman looks like or what a man looks like – or really anyone a building manager or someone else with power wanted to harass – could be singled out to somehow “prove” their gender before using the bathroom."

When writing about the recent spate of so-called "bathroom bills," it is important to focus on the widespread discrimination that transgender people face daily. These bills have severe consequences: according to a study by the Williams Institute found that 70% of respondents had experienced denial of access, harassment, and/or assault when trying to use public restrooms. Furthermore, 54% of those surveyed reported physical problems associated with avoiding public bathrooms, such as dehydration and kidney infections.

From the title, the bill seeks to protect the "privacy" of non-trans people in bathrooms, falsely implying that transgender people are predatory or perverse. On the contrary, transgender people want to use facilities for the same reasons that cisgender (non-trans) people do. Playing on stereotypes is inappropriate and fails to capture the effects of these laws on the trans community.